“I say we will replace the tax. This is a commitment. You will judge me by that. If the GST is not gone, I will have a tough time the election after that.”
— Then-federal Liberal leader Jean Chrétien, Feb. 11, 1993
“In the first term we’ll table a budget that will reverse the PST hike.”
— Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister
If Canadians know anything about political promises, it’s that politicians have an amazing ability to survive the fact that many promises get broken.
Our collective memories are short, it seems, and political parties have a pretty fair grasp of how to play games with messaging, especially when it becomes politically expedient to bury promises made in the heat of an election campaign — or in the leadup to one.
After the federal Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney introduced the GST in 1989, the Liberal party campaigned on a pledge to repeal the GST, only to break that promise after gaining office. Thanks in part to the Tory-introduced federal tax, the Liberals then balanced the books over the next several years and eventually boasted the creation of a sizable federal surplus.
The only real change created by the Liberals to the GST was the introduction of a Harmonized Sales Tax in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — a taxation policy that only changed how taxes were collected.
So what then do we make of Brian Pallister’s recent promise to repeal the NDP government’s one percentage point increase to the PST?
Winnipeg Free Press reporter Bruce Owen has already suggested in a recent blog post that Pallister has given himself a cushion to that bit of practical theatrics.
Owen points to the rest of Pallister’s quote from above to prove his point:
“But more importantly than that, we’ll get to the bottom of how big the hole is the NDP has dug for our province,” Pallister said. “We’ll find the ways to make the necessary measures work to save Manitobans money and leave more money in the hands of Manitobans to spend.
“That’s how our economy will grow. This is the worst performing economy in Canada since the PST was introduced. Overall, we have the lowest wage growth. We have the fewest jobs created and we have the highest inflation. That’s a trifecta for misery and that’s not what we need in Manitoba and not what we deserve.”
And that’s really the crux of the situation — just how big a financial hole have the NDP dug for the province?
We find ourselves in agreement with Owen — it’s becoming increasingly likely that the Progressive Conservative leader is setting Manitobans up for a fall, if and when the Manitoba Tories manage to form a government. Be prepared — that PST hike could stick around for quite awhile.
Pallister did the same thing in a letter to the editor to the Brandon Sun that we published late last May regarding the circus sideshow over the PST hike currently playing out in a Winnipeg courtroom.
“We do not know the outcome of our court case,” he wrote. “We hope for victory. But every athlete who sets foot on the playing field or court has to accept the possibility of a loss. We believe there is nobility in the attempt. In any case, the choice for Manitobans has never been clearer.”
Essentially, he was trying to tone down the public’s expectations.
The judge has since reserved his decision over the Tory’s assertion that the NDP broke the law by nixing a required referendum when it introduced the PST hike.
While we believe it’s unlikely, the Tories may well be victorious, and the NDP hike could be declared illegal.
Unfortunately, that will not solve the massive financial hole the NDP has dug for the province. And if Pallister ever does take over as premier, he will be left with a whole lot of red ink to wade through, and not too many options.